From Bogoria we continue travelling west over one of Kenya's most spectacular roads as we climb up into the Tugen Hills and then down into the remote Kerio Valley before climbing again, up the Elgeyo Escarpment, to the Uasin Gishu Plateau, passing through the towns of Eldoret and Kitale, close to the Ugandan border, before arriving at the rarely visited Saiwa Swamp.

Saiwa Swamp National Park is located near Kitale, in the Trans-Nzoia District of the Rift Valley Province. The park’s ecosystem comprises of forest and swamp vegetation. The swamp is dominated by tall bull-rushes and sedges and is bordered by open grasslands and remnants of tropical forest including wild fig and banana trees.

At around 3 square kilometres the park is the smallest of the Kenyan parks and was established to protect the endangered sitatunga. Other wildlife species commonly found in the swamp include otter, genet cat, serval cat, marsh and white-tailed mongooses, bushbuck and several species of monkey including de Brazza’s. An impressive number of over 350 different bird species have been recorded in the park.

Small populations of sitatunga are found in wetlands across much of west and central Africa, but are not easy to see anywhere. They are a semi-aquatic antelope with widely splayed hooves that help it to walk on top of the swamp vegetation. In Kenya they are found at Saiwa Swamp and Lewa Downs, with the possibility of some still occurring around Lake Victoria. 

Animal viewing and bird watching is done on foot on paths and a board walk. At various points, around the swamp, viewing platforms have been built, making it possible to look down on sitatunga as they make their way through the reeds although, all to often, they are well hidden. As usual the best time to see these antelope is first thing in the morning.

The park is off the normal tourist routes and, because it so far from most of the more popular destinations, is not somewhere we visit very often. However, for people who are visiting Western Kenya and want to try and see a sitatunga it is a must. For this reason a visit to Saiwa Swamp is part of our Secret 7 safari. Although the reserve is quite small the sitatunga can prove quite elusive particularly the more solitary and territorial males.

The Kenya Wildlife Service have a self-catering tree house in the park which is a bit different and fun to stay in. Unfortunately it only has one double bedroom so we generally use the campsite or stay nearby at Barnley’s guesthouse. Run by Sirikwa Safaris, Barnley’s Guesthouse, is owned and run by a British family. This holiday home, named after the Sirikwa tribe of people, offers two double bedrooms indoors, two external double tents and one single tent and showers in the garden. However, the advantage of staying in the reserve's campsite is that we can be in position at one of the viewing platforms with a hot drink before dawn when, as the rising sun clears the overnight mist from the swamp, the sitatunga tend to be at their most visible before they move into the thicker reeds.

East of Saiwa Swamp, the Cherangani Hills rise up over 3,500m and form a barrier between the fertile highlands around Kitale and Eldoret and the barren deserts of the north. The hills are home to two small tribes, the Pokot and the Marakwet. We can organise walks into the Cheranganis, varying from a few hours to several days, with some excellent and knowledgeable guides.